This week I’ve written about how to increase life expectancy of those with bipolar disorder being 9.2 years less than the U.S. national average. I touched on what you can do to close that gap. Having BP can be a daily struggle just to perform “normal” activities. The last thing I want to hear is despite overcoming obstacles my entire life that the end result is to die too early. The likely reasons for the shorter life are::
Greater Risk of Chronic Disease
Lack of Medical Care
Today I will cover the lack of medical care and what steps we can take to overcome all these challenges.
There are two primary factors that affect our medical care. The first is that few people in the public mental health care system are receiving high quality health care. The second being individuals with bipolar disorder are more likely to ignore early symptoms of illnesses.
In 2011, Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, stated
The unavoidable fact is that we will not improve overall longevity or contain health care costs in this nation without addressing the needs of the nearly 5 percent of Americans with serious mental illness.
We need better strategies for dealing with this urgent public health issue and we need to ensure that whether these strategies are collaborative care for depression or an innovative medical home for those with serious mental illness, we implement these interventions where the need is greatest.
I’ve shared numerous times my difficulty in receiving proper medical and physical care. I was homeless at one point and tried many times to get help from the Los Angeles County health care system only to be turned away because I was “too high functioning.” In other words, I wasn’t sick enough. One clinic, in particular, told me to come back when my symptoms get worse and maybe then I could be helped. As a result, I spent many hours in county hospital waiting rooms knowing I could not be turned away. Of course, the cost to have been accepted in a clinic would have been less expensive and less of a burden than going to the emergency room.
Reducing the suicide rate, and alleviating ineffective health care systems would increase the average life expectancy, however, the greatest impact would be for patients to seek help when needed. That’s right, it’s up to you.
A Stanford University study found that bipolar patients are at greater risk of dying from heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, the flu and pneumonia because they ignore the symptoms. The good news is that,
Bipolar patients who were aware that they had those physical illnesses, however, had death rates similar to people who were not bipolar, according to the researchers, who suggested “that timely medical diagnosis and treatment may effectively reduce mortality among bipolar disorder patients to approach that of the general population.
In other words, we can’t let the challenges of our healthcare system allow us to ignore signals from our bodies telling us that everything is not ok. Getting the help we need when we need it brings our life expectancy up to levels near the national average.
Increase Life Expectancy
In conclusion, If you want to increase life expectancy, it’s all up to you. It’s far from easy, but it’s in your hands if you want to increase your chances of living a longer and healthier life. You will need to work exceptionally hard to overcome the obstacles before you.
If you are suicidal, reach out to friends, family members and physicians to get you in a safe place both mentally and physically.
Stop slowly killing yourself with tobacco, alcohol, or drug use.
Get regular physicals and see a doctor when your body is telling you something is wrong, even if it entails long hours waiting in emergency rooms.
Breaking habits are hard and going to a doctor is a pain in the ass, but I plan to be an old man sitting for many healthy years in front of a checker board. I hope that you will be sitting across from me.